Rapportive’s “Social CRM” Gmail Plugin Makes E-mail Social Again

8/23/10Follow @wroush

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‘We could raise a seed round at a much higher valuation, but we want your money because we want to be part of the process—we need your help with incorporation, lawyers, the press, recruitment, the brand in general. Y Combinator is by far the best way to do all that.’ They invested over Skype, which was kind of cool, and we all got drunk that evening.”

Rapportive benefits hugely from the Web’s new openness. Companies like Google and communities like Stack Overflow offer programming interfaces that make it easy to grab members’ profile information for the Rapportive sidebar, and the startup gets additional information from data providers like RapLeaf, a San Francisco startup that scours the Web for personal and demographic information about consumers. The startup gives users the ability to tailor the information that other Rapportive users will see about them, which means that the more people sign up for the free sidebar, the better its data will get.

Rapportive’s Gmail sidebar represents only the first step in a much larger strategy, according to Vohra, but the company isn’t quite ready to talk about the bigger vision, he says. Meanwhile, he says customer feedback shows that people are using the sidebar data in a variety of ways. These include:

Hiring. “I had a person say ‘I’m hiring a new associate, and what people say on Twitter is far more telling than what they say on their CV.’”

Finding roommates. “Three or four people have said, ‘I’m renting a room in my house, and being able to filter people on the basis of their Facebook link is far more efficient than doing the 10-minute phone intro.’”

Sales. “When I was doing a lot of business development and sales for CUE, I was dealing with a lot of people, and it’s the kind of thing I would have found useful. You have to remember who people are.”

Networking. “We’ve had people come back and say, ‘I go to these networking events and collect hundreds of business cards, but I don’t remember who anyone is. Seeing their photo and location and LinkedIn profile reminds me who this person is, and puts the context back into my head.’”

Pruning your own social-media profiles. Because Rapportive searches the Web for details about you and your correspondents, it can turn up information you may have forgotten about: “One user came and thanked us for alerting us to his forgotten Bebo account.”

And Vohra’s “intermission” from graduate school? It’s now permanent, and Vohra says he has no regrets. After leaving mo.jo, Vohra says he had an important conversation with his mother. “She says all kinds of things like ‘Failure is the difference between expectation and achievement’—I think she spends hours coming up with these things. This time, she challenged me to think about the things I’m passionate about. Games, biology, programming. She said, ‘Do something you find easy and that other people aren’t good at.’” For Vohra and his colleagues at Rapportive, that’s helping people build social connections through software.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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